Last summer, I worked my first big girl job at Target HQ in Minneapolis. I would get up at around 7 and get to work by 8, work until 12 for a 30 minute lunch break, and then continue working until 5:30 PM. Every day, I would tell my co-workers that there is such a thing as an ideal day and the typical American work schedule is not it. An ideal day would be something like this: work from about 8 to noon, have a 2-3 hour break for lunch,working out, naps, getting some sun, whatever. Come back to work feeling refreshed and focused, and continue working from then until about 6 or 7. Then you come home for a late dinner and a movie. Go to bed feeling happy and fulfilled and relaxed. Boo ya, life.
Well, my friends, this sort of day does exist and I just so happened to luck into studying abroad there.
There are a few reasons why the Spanish have such a unique schedule. The most formative source of the unique schedule is that geographically, Spain is in the wrong time zone. During World War II, Spain’s dictator Francisco Franco changed the Spanish time zone to match that of Germany’s so as to strengthen their alliance. So in Spain, the sun rises at a later hour and sets at a later hour, work schedules are shifted later than what most of the rest of the world is used to. Many businesses still break for a few hours, allowing for long and heavy lunches followed by a siesta. Dinner is light and doesn’t usually begin until 9 and nightlife also begins and ends much later than that of the US. Usually at home, I would start drinking while getting ready. But if anyone were to do that here, they can’t make it to the closing time of bars and clubs that can range from anywhere between 4 and 6 AM.
Now for people like me, living a student’s schedule, this is totally awesome and doable. Naps after class? Don’t mind if I do. Other people like bachelors and retired folk can also enjoy the Spanish lifestyle. However, normal adults with families and responsibilities struggle through this schedule, often being forced to skip the mid-day break because commuting home and back is unrealistic in a few hours, and instead end up working extremely long hours, making it impossible to be home to take care of children. Another “increase efficiency” argument is in support of changing the Spanish clock back an hour to it’s correct time so as to change the culture, have shorter work days sans siesta, and therefore develop a more efficient workforce that will subsequently help to boost a semi-kaput economy.
Last week, a New York Times article was written critiquing the Spanish culture (more specifically, the Land of 10 PM Dinners). It brought up a few good points, but I’m not entirely convinced that shifting the clock back an hour will eliminate the mid-afternoon snooze all together or change how the Spanish prefer to have their meals. I don’t think it will change how in general, the Spanish prefer late night entertainment tv programming followed by not too much sleep in the evenings, preferring to save a few hours for a mid-afternoon break. I certainly don’t think that the nightlife culture will change- kids will go out when they feel like going out. When it’s cool to be out.
A response to the NYT article argues that the real reason the Spanish culture is the way it is is because of their eating habits and schedule. Which brings me to my next point- being able to enjoy the way the Spanish eat has been one of my favorite parts of coming to Madrid. Like I mentioned earlier, lunch is usually a heavier meal while dinner is light/non-existent. Many restaurants offer a Menu del Día. For 10 EU, you get a 2 course meal, unlimited wine or drink of choice, bread, and dessert. On a very hungover Friday, my friend Liza and I decided to find a place for lunch. We used my Trip Adviser app which helped us find a reasonably priced and well-reviewed restaurant close to where we were. I’ve been able to try out a number of different travel guides and Trip Adviser has been one of my favorites. You download city specific guides, and then it provides everything from an offline, no wifi needed! Their guides include an interactive map of the city, suggested itineraries, attractions organized by categories, and nearby restaurants rated by other travelers. There are very specific descriptions about the food, prices, service, location, etc. GET Trip Adviser, particularly if you have a short trip in a big city. This super helpful app will help you enjoy the best places you can in a limited time.
So on this particular day, we had only been in Spain for a few days. We got to this restaurant, En Busca del Tiempo (In Search of Time), and took advantage of their Menu del Día. They brought out a huge jar of wine and warm bread. Then Liza and I picked four dishes to share- two from the first entree menu, two from the second entree menu. The food was unique and fancy, yet accessible at only 10 EU each. Liza is my soulmate because she and I always get different food and share, so as to maximize our “try new things” experience. We spent two hours chatting and enjoying good food and wine. We had also picked a great spot near the window for people watching. Lunch is now officially the best meal of the day.
Even though dinner is light, one can easily make a meal out of going out. Order a drink in Spain, and more likely than not, you’ll also receive some tapas. Order a few drinks, and you’ve got dinner and a nice buzz for a 5-10 EU. Fab!
The food here is delicious. I talked earlier about how my host mom is a fabulous cook- last night we had pork chops, mashed potatoes, and a baked cinnamon apple for dessert. The Spaniards enjoy a mediterranean diet and almost every meal incorporates meat. Some of my favorite Spanish food has included:
Croquetas- these deep fried balls made of flour and cheese and meat and they are to die for. I would actually give my life for these. If I ever have a last meal, I will be requesting these babies.
Tortilla española– It’s not a tortilla… It’s like a very thick omlette cake with potatoes, onions, tomatoes, etc. Not just for breakfast! Delicious anytime of day. I like that Spaniards are cool with eating eggs whenever. That is Gucci with me.
Paella- Starts with rice, vegetables, fish, meat are all added in. Although sometimes I feel like it’s missing some flavor or a kick, with a little bit of lemon juice and tabasco, it’s traditional goodness. Different stuff in every bite!
Patatas Bravas- Fried potatoes smothered a spicy mayonaise sauce. My friends always complain whenever we get these because they think they’re too simple. I think they’re too simple-minded to miss the genius in carbs dipped in spicy fat.
Churros con Chocolate- I’ve mentioned earlier how lucky I am to be living where I’m living in Madrid. I also happen to live a stone’s throw away from Spain’s most famous Churros y Chocolate place, San Gines. The place itself is covered in photographs of famous Spanish and international celebrities that have stopped by for a bite. And for a sweet 3 euro, a friend and I can share 6 churros and a hot steaming cup of creamy chocolate. It’s salty, sweet, fried, hot, yummy goodness. At night particularly after a long night of partying, it’s a great way to fill up the tummy before going home.
To end this post, I would just like to say that I found 4 shelves of “American” food on the top floor of the Corté Inglés, which is Madrid’s humongous combo of Target+Macy’s. I thought I was going to get really homesick and buy everything. Instead, I found:
- Tortilla chips and a series of different types of salsas. (That’s Mexican… Right?)
- Pancake mix from “Missouri” but no waffle syrup. That has to be illegal.
- A jar of peanut butter that was about $7. NO.